If a prototype in Perth’s northern suburbs succeeds later this year, a family's shopping list in the very near future could feature a litre of milk, some dress shoes, a doctor’s prescription, an apartment, three games of bowling and two pints of India Pale Ale.
The suburban shopping centre is undergoing a transformation and the model favoured by many commercial developers could conveniently provide the Australian craft beer industry with growth opportunities.
It has already prompted the expansion of Beerland, the brand created by an experienced band of WA hospitality chiefs that first opened a brewpub in the guide of Perth's Northbridge Beer Company. The expansion means that, after enduring a craft beer drought, Perth’s rapidly expanding upper west side can finally salivate over the impending arrival of Whitfords Brewing Company within the revamped Whitfords Shopping Centre.
The new premises will replicate many of the characteristics of its older sibling, which has enjoyed success since opening in 2014. But Beerland co-founder Ben Rasheed says the second operation will have its own personality traits – not least that the brewpub will be in a shopping centre. Not next to it. Not down the road. And not the sort of liquor outlet tucked away in the back corner with a little bit of frontage to allow in customers after hours.
WBC will be a prime player in the $400 million redevelopment of the already enormous Whitfords Shopping Centre, located 25km from Perth. When the “lifestyle and entertainment precinct” renovations are finished, the area will feature, as centre manager Scott Greenwood said late last year, “a new hub for leisure and dining that can be enjoyed day or night”.
That's the appeal for the WBC team and why similar developments in WA, namely Innaloo and Karrinyup, as well as others proposed interstate under the Westfield banner could prove to be a boost for independent beer.
“These aren’t like shopping centres of old, they’re more like quasi town centres,” says Ben. “The precinct will have food, offices, clothes shops, bulky goods and residential apartments. So there will be a demand for things like a brewpub.
“These new type of shopping centres will be all about catering for the experience whether that be at 10 in the morning or 10 in the night. They’re more like activity centres. You might have a beer in the brewpub while the wife shops for a new dress, maybe a meal after ten-pin bowling or a movie. It will be a one-stop shop for shopping.”
Already, we've seen a similar example in Melbourne where The Public Brewery was invited to create The Cellar Door – a three-storey venue showcasing its beers, those of fellow Victorian brewers, and Yarra Valley wines, ciders and other produce – within a new precinct of the Eastland development in Ringwood. It offers locals, as well as shoppers, an opportunity to try craft beer without travelling, something WBC promises to do for punters living in one of the country’s fastest growing areas – Perth’s northern suburbs.
While the city as a whole has a strong craft beer tradition, the streets above the Swan River have been dry. Almost 500,000 people live between the Northbridge Brewing Company and Indian Ocean Brewing Company in Mindarie, 38km north of the CBD, yet there is no craft brewery or brewpub.
The Beerland group also runs popular Perth venues such as Left Bank, Universal Bar and Mustang Bar but says it can envisage more ventures under the brewpub brand.
“We have been looking somewhere south as well but the position needs to be right,” says Ben.
Backing the Beerland push is the growing trend of brewpubs in the US. The US Brewers Association reported recently that, of the impending 1800 licences being sought for beer makers across the States, more than 95 per cent are for nano operations like brewpubs. Australia tends to follow trends in the USA so the spike in brewpubs could well be around the corner.
There's plenty of appeal in going down the brewpub route. These small operations look to cast a net over their communities to capture an audience, have total control over the product being passed over the bar and can get instant feedback from customers. Such setups often operate without the need for a bottling or canning line – or, indeed, a need to buy and showcase others’ beer in some instances – and can look to growlers, squealers or CANimals as means of providing takeaway options.
Like the NBC, the WBC brewing operation will be overseen by former Swan Brewery head brewer Ken Arrowsmith (pictured above), who has been enjoying a new lease on life in beer in his two years at the helm of the Northbridge setup.
The plan is for WBC to produce Ken’s core range of Pale, India Pale Ale, Lager, Kolsch and Wheat as well as seasonals from a 12 hectolitre system onsite; As with Northbridge, the venue will also sell other breweries' beers.
“But it won’t be like McDonalds where everything is the same,” says Ben. “People do like to engage with the brewery and having a working operation they can see while having a drink is important so that will be the same as the NBC. However, a different demographic in the northern suburbs could mean different varieties of beer on offer.
“In the end, it is about having fun and not taking beer too seriously."
Whitfords Brewing Company has targeted a Spring launch.
About the author: Ross Lewis is editor of beer website, The Sip.